Linden Airport: Lights camera, action!

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LINDEN, NJ — Things were a little different last week at the Linden Municipal Airport, when Hollywood decided to pay a visit.

“On Wednesday, May 11, it was truly Hollywood comes to Linden,” said Paul Dudley, the airport director, in an interview with LocalSource on Friday, May 13.

“It was quite the circus. They had a shootout scene with the actors from the ‘FBI: Most Wanted’ series. It was a very cool experience. The particular scene involved the FBI trying to stop an aircraft.”

A successful television program filming part of an episode in Union County might seem out of place, but for Dudley, who is also the president of Linden Air Services Corp., a private company that operates the airport under contract with the city of Linden, it was business as usual.

“Linden supports the state’s effort to attract film projects,” he said. “They contribute mightily to the economy, and also they help elevate the stature, in terms of exposure that we had. Not all of it is ‘The Sopranos’ — not all of it is negative.”

“The state, through its motion picture commission, keeps a list of movies, corporate titles, videos. … They maintain a list of places in the state that are willing to accommodate the industry,” continued Dudley. “When you need an airport, you look up airports; when you need a building, you look up buildings. The process is one where they ask if they can scout the location and see if it’s suitable. Usually, the crew arrive a day or so in advance and start to do the set up. On the day of the shoot, the actors come in, camera angles are worked out and they do the shoot. When you see them do shots six or more times, you see how much work it is. For the most part, it’s an enjoyable experience. There seems to be a lot of camaraderie.”

It wasn’t always this way. Dudley said the previous airport operator in the 1980s didn’t permit this because he didn’t want to be bothered with the inconvenience or the liability. When Dudley was put in charge, however, he changed the policy, and, 32 years later, they’re still doing it.

“Everyone really knows what they are doing,” he said. “I’ve been here for 37 years, I’ve run it for 32 years, and, as a business person, what I see is economic activity, and everything flows from that, the paychecks, the ability to be creative. I feel it’s worth the effort and inconvenience.”

Having film crews in at Linden Airport, even if it’s only for a few days, adds up to big bucks, explains Dudley.

“This one scene that (they filmed) probably will be 30 seconds in the show (and) involved close to 200 people, all of whom will be getting paychecks,” he said. “And for every one of them, there are five to 10 more people that are doing editing, catering. …”

“It’s not just a couple of actors and cameramen,” continued Dudley. “It’s all these crew members that have to be brought here. All the logistical things. All involve employment. We need to get the economy recovering after COVID-19.”

“We had to buy catering locally, we had to buy fuel locally; there is a local economic impact and a regional economic impact, not to mention the excitement of the production and the promotion of the state.”

Dudley emphasized how much the film industry has changed, just in the past 20 or 30 years.

“When we started doing this in the early ’90s, everything was with big film cameras, enormous lighting, generators and cables,” he said. “Probably about 85 percent of that is gone today. Everything is digital. Lighting is LED, which is lighter and requires far more power. Even the director sits in the production vehicle with all of the cameras being fed to the monitors, while all of the shooting is going forward to where they sit.

“The director … you could tell she knew exactly what she was doing, the level of expertise and professionalism,” Dudley added. “So, she’s sitting in this truck with all the monitors and she’s watching all these wireless feeds and she can communicate and tell them, even the actors, what she wants. It’s no more waiting for the next day for the film to be developed. These guys really have it down. This production was a union operation. A lot of folks were very happy to be back to work.”

This is not to say that there aren’t a lot of props that need to be brought onto the set, even for quick shoots such as this one.

“They had to rent an aircraft,” said Dudley. “And it had to be flown here from Danbury, Conn. The ripple effect is quite broad. Much came from New Jersey, New York and as far away as Connecticut, and all of these people get a paycheck.

The metropolitan area is seeing a huge resurgence in production,” he continued. “There have been studios built in Greenpoint (in Brooklyn, N.Y.). The studio in Queens is legendary. At any time, there are dozens of productions going on in the New York area. My goal is to make New Jersey competitive, so it gets its share in this resurgence. No longer do you have to shoot in Hollywood or in Pinewood Studios in England. It’s a major industry with a serious economy that is worthy of support. For New Jersey to be competitive, it takes locations to be available.”

All of this might be profitable, but it would seem to be an inconvenience to the running of the airport. In that regard, however, Dudley insisted the opposite is true.

“We don’t close the airport,” he said. “We make adjustments to make sure the airport is not affected and all activities continue 99 percent. It was quite an experience, and, as long as the state and the municipalities support it, as much as it’s a pain, we will continue to support it.”

He added that it’s supposed to be the last show of the season, and, although he doesn’t have the air date, it should be sometime this month.

“It benefits the state in terms of its image and financial status,” Dudley added. “We feel that the upside benefits certainly make it worthwhile. We do what we can to support them.”

Even with all of these extra people at the airport, he insisted everyone was safe and no one was ever in any danger.

“No matter what, safety is the No. 1 concern in the aviation business. We need to be absolutely certain that what they do we oversee and what we do is coordinated,” said Dudley. “I had lent them my golf cart. They wanted to do an in-house promo. Some of them have been here a long time, so you get to know them.

“This was a very focused shot,” he continued. “These are real-life cases. The FBI intercepted an airplane with criminals, and, when they came out of the aircraft, it resulted in a gunfight. They do it very realistically. They keep doing it until the director is happy.”

In addition to serving as a place where directors might take their film crews to do a shoot, Dudley insists Linden Airport is a very busy, very well utilized airport.

“Linden is the factory floor,” he said. “We gave all of the network newscasters a home base to use, Chopper 2, Chopper 4, Chopper 5, Chopper 7. Every day, they take off in the morning. They operate from here. We have the largest sightseeing outfit east of the Mississippi here with us. We are the clockworks behind the clock face. Everything that’s going on behind the face. And just like a watch, each part has to work together.”

Dudley has made sure the airport has also been very involved in Linden and what makes the community thrive and hum.

“We hosted the Linden High School graduation in the middle of the pandemic,” he said. “We graduated almost 400 students, which otherwise would have been denied them from COVID-19. “These kids were denied their prom, their senior trip and they were going to be denied their graduation. Mayor (Derek) Armstead and myself cooked this up for outside. The kids decorated their cars like parade floats. All of those kids got to have a graduation, where they came up, had their picture taken with the mayor and got their diplomas.

“I was incredibly touched by the reaction of these kids,” continued Dudley. “Just a wonderful wonderful day for everyone. We’ve also done movie night, where they set up temporary screens and kids are there with their pajamas and blankets, and we did it twice. We hosted the Red Bull air races here. Part of it was … where any Linden resident could come and get autographs of pilots.”

Red Bull Air Race World Championship is a series of air races sanctioned by the World Air Sports Federation. It was originally established in 2003 as the Red Bull Air Race. In 2010, Linden Airport hosted the New York City round of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship.

“We also host other groups here,” said Dudley. “We host not-for-profit groups here, where we provide a venue for organizations to have a space. We recently hosted a space for the Richmond Pilot groups, one of the oldest flying groups in the country. It’s a pleasure to do this kind of stuff, and that was sourced locally, part of the effort to widen the positive economic impact. We may not be the Super Bowl, but we do what’s best.”

This proved an interesting choice of words and a segue to another event in which Linden Airport had been involved, as Dudley was quick to point out.

“When the Super Bowl came to the Meadowlands, we were part of the effort to handle the enormous influx of aircraft,” he said. “If all of a sudden you put several hundreds of aircraft for one or two days, you’ve got to find places to park them, to fuel them, to move the passengers. Coordinating with the other airports, with the NFL, with the city of New York.

“The same thing with Red Bull,” added Dudley. “I think there were something like 30 municipalities in both states, all the police departments and the fire departments, the Coast Guard. … It took us a year to get it organized, but we do it because the end result showcases our community in a positive way.”

Of course, Linden Airport is an airport, and Dudley says he never loses sight of its real mission.

“Linden Airport has three purposes,” he began. “First, we are the marina for airplanes. You rent a place outside or you can rent a hangar to store your aircraft. The second thing we do is, we are an exit off the aerial highway. We are one of thousands of airports that give you an off-ramp. The third thing that we do is, we receive traffic from Newark International.”

Even still, Dudley is always ready to talk about other accomplishments Linden Airport has achieved, particularly by working with local government.

“The Armstead administration has supported our events,” he said. “We used to run the cerebral palsy fundraiser of Union County here and we’d have 5,000 people. Now, we don’t have quite the property.”
Recent events have reminded Dudley how important Linden Airport is to Union County and the nation.

“We had a Rosie the Riveter reunion to celebrate all of the women that worked in the General Motors plant that used to be here, for all the ladies who worked on the Wildcat fighter that was produced here during World War II,” he said. “That’s the reason this airport is here. We made fighter planes here, so they built an airport for them.”

Photos Courtesy of Paul Dudley